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Art From Us MUSEUM GUIDE : The Metropolitan Museum of Art : Gallery 552

The MET : Gallery 552 : Terracotta Models, 1700–1900

Art From Us, Museum Guide #656

Art From Us presents a must-see Museum Guide daily, where we showcase specific artworks in specific museums – from across the globe. Today, for Art From Us, Museum Guide #656 the spotlight is on the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) NY’s Gallery 552. Showcasing a collection of Terracotta Models, 1700–1900.

The three works in focus are :

  1. Pieta, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, 1864.
  2. Model for a proposed monument to commemorate the invention of the balloon, Clodion (Claude Michel), ca. 1784.
  3. The intoxication of wine, Clodion (Claude Michel), ca. 1780-90.

The significance of the 3 works chosen for Art From Us, Museum Guide #656

The objects and artefacts of this gallery are particularly interesting as they are not considered ‘art’ in a traditional sense.

Terracotta as a Medium

The small figurines housed in this gallery at the MET are models for bigger sculptures created in marble and other material. Traditionally, since marble was not an inexpensive commodity, artists would often use terracotta in the initial stages of ideation.

The word ‘terracotta’ in latin means ‘baked earth’. Classical artists would use clay to make models of commissioned sculptures before beginning to sculpt. The softness of clay was perfect for moulding and re-modelling until the artist was happy with her creation; only then would she move on to sculpting in marble.

This practice highlights the ‘lower’ status accorded terracotta art, which is arguably prevalent even in modern times. Sculptures and utilitarian items made out of clay are often identified as handicrafts, outside of the purview of high art. As a result, the market for such creations is valued at far less than the market for painting and sculpture.

Gallery 552 at the MET encapsulates a fascinating aspect of art and culture that lives on even today. The terracotta objects housed here still carry heavy imprints of their makers. They’re so tactile – but be sure not to touch anything!

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